COLUMBUS - As Ohio farmers prepare for a ballot showdown with animal rights activists over livestock confinement practices, Michigan has quietly followed a different path.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to sign legislation making Michigan the seventh state to enact laws requiring that laying hens, breeding hogs, and veal calves have room to maneuver or spread their wings inside their cages or pens.
Despite the price tag attached, agricultural groups in Michigan decided to negotiate now rather than fight a battle for public opinion some believed they couldn't win.
"Agribusiness would never be able to put up the kind of
money for a successful ballot campaign like [the Humane Society of the United States] can," said Michigan state Rep. Mike Simpson (D., Jackson), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and the bill's sponsor.
"They would have commercials that would tug at the heart with pictures of abused puppies and kittens," he said. "This would have been a vote of emotions."
Ohio, on the other hand, has taken a hard-line stance with Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, the Democratic-controlled House, and Republican-controlled Senate uniting to mount a swift pre-emptive strike against an expected move by the humane society to make Ohio the next battleground over what it calls inhumane treatment of farm animals.
The Humane Society of the United States, a national organization not directly affiliated with local humane societies, had asked the Ohio Farm Bureau to talk while still holding a trump card for its own ballot issue in 2010 to force the General Assembly's hand.
Instead of talking with the humane society, the farm bureau worked with lawmakers to rush Issue 2 to the Nov. 3 ballot, asking voters to amend the Ohio Constitution to set up a 13-member panel to write state regulations for the treatment of farm animals.
The board would be similar to an advisory panel that Michigan Representative Simpson's bill originally proposed before the compromising began. Mr. Simpson's district straddles Lenawee, Jackson, and Eaton counties.
If voters approve Ohio Issue 2, the humane society promises the battle won't end. Instead of an initiated statute urging lawmakers to pass its law, it said it will instead put its own constitutional amendment on the ballot in November, 2010.
Humane society tactics have been successful elsewhere. Ballot initiatives resulted in laws in California, Arizona, and Florida. Lawmakers in Maine, Colorado, and Oregon passed laws, as Michigan is poised to do.
"In California, $20 million was spent," said Roger Wise of the Fremont area, president of the Ohio Farmers Union, which generally represents smaller farms. "There were these horrific pictures and graphics, and that runs the risk of driving a wedge between the producer and consumer. We don't want that. Agriculture is Ohio's largest industry, and producers generally do a good job."
Unlike the largest state farm organizations, such as the farm bureau, Ohio Cattlemen's Association, and Ohio Pork Producers Council, the Ohio Farmers Union officially opposes Issue 2. Mr. Wise had urged Ohio's agricultural community to do as Michigan has done and work out a compromise with the humane society.
Tom Hertzfeld II of Hertzfeld Poultry Farm near Grand Rapids, Ohio, and a member of the farm bureau, said the state's agricultural community would respond to a humane society ballot issue when it comes.
The Hertzfeld family has 1.1 million chickens and produces about 90,000 dozen eggs a day.
"We feel our approach is a more meaningful solution," he said. "We would have an Ohio panel of experts trying to provide families with safe, local food and keep food prices affordable for everyone. We would protect family farms and not have out-of-state activists telling farmers how to care for their animals."
He said costs associated with changing farming practices, such as the elimination of battery cages for laying hens in his case, would lead to higher costs for consumers.
"You could conceivably have $4 to $6 for a carton of eggs," he said. "We would probably have the same production, but with a lot more birds and more housing to do the same thing. There would be less birds per house and a lot more houses."
The Ohio panel, led by the state director of agriculture, also would consist of farmers, veterinarians, a county humane society representative, an academic expert, and consumer representatives. Two members would be selected by legislative leaders and the rest by the governor.
Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, said the law to be signed by Ms. Granholm largely provides the humane society the concessions it sought, but gives the industry more time to implement them. It also means violations would be handled as civil offenses rather than criminal.
"Even though HSUS was driving this whole situation, the marketplace has been driving decisions like this a lot more rapidly," he said. "Major companies like Kroger, Wal-Mart, McDonald's, and Wendy's have requested that producers change how they do certain things."
Michigan's new law would prevent farm operations from confining an animal in a way that would prevent it from lying down, standing, turning around, or fully extending its limbs.
The few veal-producing farms in Michigan would have three years to rid themselves of crates restricting the movement of calves. Farmers would have 10 years to ban battery cages for hens and gestation crates for breeding hogs.
The law passed the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate unanimously and the Democratic-controlled House by 87-20.
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